Manchester United Analysis

Tactical Periodisation is the latest buzzword. Gone are the days of pre-season sending players on 5km or 10km runs to improve their fitness. Sir Alex Ferguson used to use a bleep test to measure his player’s fitness, with fantasy stories that David Beckham completed it at level 21. However, times have changed and Jose Mourinho incorporates fitness into his tactical and technical drills.

What is Tactical Periodisation?

Tactical Periodisation first arose over 30 years ago through Professor Victor Frade. The training methodology thrived in Portugal and is the cornerstone to F.C Porto’s success in the Champions League in 2004. Victor Frade was the founder but Jose Mourinho made it famous.

Tactical Periodisation is primarily concerned with the ‘play’ that teams will produce in competition. It focuses on how the team wants to play on a match day and adapts ever training scenario to meet this need. There is no running for running’s sake and every action is intended to remain in muscle memory for game day.

Victor Frade argues that breaking down football into isolated phases, periods and actions is not the most effective way to play football as that is not how football is played. Football is unpredictable. We need to think about how we integrate this unpredictability and all aspects of the game into a training drill and not an isolated unopposed shooting drill. Jose Mourinho defines it perfectly ‘I defend the totality of the work, not separating the physical, technical, tactical and psychological components’.

The importance of the playing model

The playing model represents how the coach wants to play. It is the overarching concept of Tactical Periodisation. Once a coach decides how they want to play each training session maps to the playing model and how it can be realised on match day.

Jurgen Klopp focuses on aggressive pressing with incisive breakaways and Pep Guardiola focuses on controlling games through possession and using penetrative passes to break down the opposition. Up until now, Jose Mourinho’s playing model has been a structured defensive shape with fast counter-attacks that brought him success at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

Systems, formations, organisational structure, players and other factors will all help to configure the playing model. It is the headline concept which is then broken down into sub-principles. Sub principles focus on distinct areas of play, for example, what does the team do in and out of possession?

Importantly the playing model is always evolving. It modifies depending on the opposition, tactical analysis, playing staff and self-reflection. It explains why in big games, Jose Mourinho always has a tactical plan to counter the opposition’s strengths.

What is Manchester United’s playing model?

As mentioned previously, playing models are always evolving. However, looking at last season how would we describe Manchester United’s playing model?

Manchester United conceded the second least goals in the Premier League with 28 compared to Manchester City’s 27. Interestingly, their expected goals against was 44 as opposed to Manchester City’s 25. This highlights a focus on defensive positioning and also an exceptional goalkeeper. They only scored the 5th highest at 68 and were the 6th highest in ball possession with 52%. These statistics begin to indicate that Manchester United do not look to control the game through possession but that their playing model is focused on nullifying attacking threats through a defensive, structured, counter-attacking game model.

How is this implemented?

Up until last season, Rui Faria was Manchester United’s expert in tactical periodisation and organised Manchester United’s training schedule. He combined tactical and physical work to ensure that the team was in the best physical shape for match days. Jose Mourinho will now adapt his coaching staff to meet his needs. Talking about this season, he stated: “I’m going to have assistant coaches, I’m going to have fitness coaches, and a structure where they have specialists in different areas connected to the performance”. A strong thing of linking fitness and performance still exists, the main concept of tactical periodisation.

What would a weekly training pattern look like?

Within Tactical Periodisation a weekly training pattern follows something called a morphocycle pattern. If we take the example of one game in a week (more likely in pre-season than in the Premier League), this is what it may look like.

Sunday – Game Day

MondayRest day

Tuesday – Active recovery – The team address sub-principles from the previous game provided. Was the team week out of possession? Did they struggle to convert in the final third? Recovery is still important and there are frequent rest stops.

Wednesday – Sub-dynamic tension – Sub principles are worked on again since players are not fully recovered there is more recovery time, reduced spaces, higher muscle contraction speeds and reduced groups of players. An example could be a defensive overload where 3/4 defenders have to handle a counterattack by 5/6 attackers. It demands high-intensity sprints, jumps and changes of direction all building fitness and game related.

Thursday – Sub-dynamic duration – This is the most intense day where demands on similar to match day. It is the furthest from game day and the teamwork in bigger spaces with longer duration and more players.  An example is playing a condition 11 vs 11 game focusing on a particular area of the playing model.

Friday – Day of sub-dynamic speed – Recovery after the Thursday session is crucial. The focus is on sub-principles for the following Sunday game. An example is a high-intensity drill such as 11 vs 11 on a much smaller pitch to move the ball at very high speed.

Saturday – Pre-activation – Focused on pre-activation for game day. The drills are high on concentration but with low complexity. There is still a focus on recovery but with some speed and tension to ensure the team is ready for game day.

SundayGame day


Tactical Periodisation has worked for Jose Mourinho before and even England’s DNA is shifting to a training schedule focused on the ball. Rui Faria is an industry leader in tactical periodisation and is a big loss but Jose Mourinho has been using this for over 15 years. It is also used by Pep Guardiola and it’s popularity is only going to increase. The main question for Manchester United fans is what will Jose Mourinho’s playing model be next season? Can we hope that there is a return to attacking football.